As the worlds of fine art and fashion have grown increasingly closer, designers and fashion houses have adopted a longtime practice from the art world: the creation of a physical archive to collect and maintain important works from the brand’s history, along with accessories, preparatory drawings and archival materials.
UOVO is a fine art storage and services company based in New York. While the majority of our clients are art museums, galleries and private collectors, we have been blown away by the interest we have received from the fashion community to use our facilities as a center to base creative and corporate legacies. We store more than 25,000 garments for our clients across our three facilities.
UOVO sees archival and collections storage as an opportunity to engage with designers and fashion houses to understand and solve for their individual needs. Storage is assumed to be a place where garments are hidden away and untouched for years, but this is directly counter to what is happening at UOVO: we’ve become an active collections center within the context of a larger conversation around brand legacy.
For designers thinking about creating an archive, or looking to find a long-term home for an existing collection, there are a number of issues to consider.
Archives in the digital age
We find that archives play a part in two conversations. One is an internal conversation happening within a fashion house in which the history of the brand informs contemporary design. The other is an external conversation of storytelling that fashion houses deliver to their loyal customers and the fashion world at large — a dialogue that is increasingly happening online.
These dialogues are very familiar to the Oscar de la Renta team, who sees their archive both as a repository for important pieces, as an inspirational space where the next generation of designers can interact with the brand’s history. Walking through the archive among the feather and tulle gowns, feeling the weight of the material, seeing the way that fabric reflects the light — all these sensory experiences help develop a better understanding of how the physical object was made and how it fits into the legacy as a whole. While digital archives are an extremely important tool, as in visual art, a digital image can never adequately express the scale and depth of a work.
While our primary concern at UOVO is the physical archive, we have developed a system to integrate archives seamlessly with the digital needs of a working design team, who use a digital archive to catalog materials ranging from advertising and look books to images of samples and fabrics. Our team is trained in handling couture, and each item that arrives at our facility can be photographed to the client’s specifications.
Images are uploaded both to our cloud-based internal inventory management system, as well as a mobile platform for collection management. This digital archive allows our clients to easy search for garments based on time period, or a specific detail or theme that is tagged to the object. They can send a message to request for pieces to be staged for viewing in our facility, or delivered by courier to their offices.
Not all storage is created equal
Textiles are fragile and extremely sensitive to light, temperature and humidity. One of the reasons we have received so much interest from the fashion community is that all of our facilities are purpose-built or newly renovated to provide full climate control for the most delicate objects. Beyond the climate conditions, advanced pest control and a strong security system ensure objects retain their condition and value.
Accessibility is also extremely important. People want to interact with what they have loved creating, whether that is art, fashion or a collection curated over many years. We want to make this easy for our clients, who have the option to either rent a private room that we can custom build with our in-house architect, or to store their collection in our cost-effective concierge shared storage which comes with the benefit of on-site workspaces in which the collection can be viewed and worked with. Every client is assigned an account manager, a point person knowledgeable in the specifics of their collection, who helps coordinate all of UOVO’s services, from condition reporting to international shipping.
The scale of our clients’ needs ranges from multiple room buildouts featuring in-unit conference rooms for designers and buyers to meet and brain storm, to more finite requests that require maximizing the efficient use of space through custom designed racking and the use of higher ceilings and mezzanines. This allows our clients to rent a smaller footprint and save money, while getting the best care for their collection. The scale of our operation is now more than 550,000 square feet, ensuring that our clients’ archives can continue to grow and evolve.
It’s about legacy
As designers look forward into the future, the idea of collecting their life’s work into a narrative that can be shared with the public is becoming increasingly important; the prevalence of museum exhibitions dedicated to the work of individual designers is a testament to this trend. It’s also a time-consuming task: key pieces from past collections often need to be bought back from private collectors and the company must closely follow the market for the designer’s past works to contribute to the archive when pieces become available.
Our goal is to ensure that the logistical demands of amassing and maintaining the archive are made easy so that designers can focus on the intellectual and creative task of framing their legacies and paving the way forward.
Steve Novenstein is founder and chief executive officer of UOVO.